by Roger Stancil, Chapel Hill Town Manager
When we conducted the first Community Survey in 2009, it was the first comprehensive and scientifically conducted survey about municipal services undertaken in Chapel Hill. Residents reported their overall satisfaction with Town services in high numbers (82 percent satisfied). Their feedback on other topics became part of our planning for the future.
It takes courage to ask residents about their perceptions of the job you’re doing. There is even more risk asking them a second time — especially when this time, the economy has worsened and you have had to implement service reductions. The Council’s goal is to survey the community every two years. Our second survey was conducted in November and December of 2011. Once again, the Town of Chapel Hill received exceedingly high marks (this time, 84 percent) for residents’ satisfaction with Town services. Comparing 2011 to 2009 survey results, satisfaction ratings for the Town increased in nearly every service area category. These numbers reflect the prudent financial decisions of the Town Council and the committed service of our excellent team of employees.
We engaged ETC Institute to administer our survey because of their experience with governmental organizations across the country and their ability to compare our results with other similar communities. ETC told us that the surveys they had conducted nationally were showing a trend toward declining satisfaction, attributed generally to a worsening economy. While 84 percent of respondents in Chapel Hill rated an overall satisfaction with the quality of Town services in 2011, the overall rankings for the United States (57 percent) and similar cities in the Southeast (58 percent) rated much lower.
While valuable to know where we are performing well, we also want to know where our residents are least satisfied. Highest rates of dissatisfaction concerned availability of affordable housing and jobs. When residents report on issues that they characterize as having a low level of satisfaction and a high level of importance, these issues become priorities. The priorities identified in 2011 were as follows along with ways we are addressing these issues:
- Overall flow of traffic and congestion – Addressed in part by a $5 million Traffic Signal Project slated for completion in August 2012.
- How well the Town is prepared for the future – Chapel Hill 2020 is a yearlong process designed to engage great numbers of people in to creating a new Comprehensive Plan to guide our future.
- Value you receive for your town tax dollars – Priority Budgeting is designed to prioritize the allocation of resources to services the community values as expressed in Chapel Hill 2020 and the community survey.
- How well the Town is managing change – Chapel Hill 2020.
In September 2011, a few months before the Community Survey was conducted, we launched the Chapel Hill 2020 project. At our first community meeting held at East Chapel Hill High School, we were overwhelmed and delighted when about 475 residents turned out to participate in the process. The Chapel Hill 2020 process has included numerous methods to engage residents and find out what they are thinking. These have included direct conversations, surveys, feedback forms and the blog at www.2020buzz.org. The community survey has shown us that what we are hearing in the Chapel Hill 2020 group discussions are a sampling of the larger community’s concerns and priorities for the future.
Thank you to all who took time to complete the survey and provide input. The statistically valid Community Survey was mailed to 2,000 randomly selected Chapel Hill households. A telephone survey was conducted as a follow-up to the mailed survey. There were 607 residents who completed the survey (a 31 percent response rate).
If you would like to review the complete results of the 2011 Community Survey, please find the extensive report online at www.townofchapelhill.org/survey.